Friday, September 23, 2005


Jumping in the deep end.

Ever since the devastation of Katrina, I’ve been curious about the social implications of what happened. One thing that I heard a lot from commentators and opinion people was that this was a tragedy of epic proportions and that this exposed the deep-seeded nature of racism in America. Even someone like Kanye West made perhaps the boldest statement of all in declaring that “George Bush doesn't care about black people.” (See here for the video clip of it. You need QuickTime for it.)

What all of that has done is get me thinking about race and the Christian disciple, particularly my relationship with people of different colors. One of my greatest fears is for someone to call me a racist, because I feel like I try very hard to not show preference to one race over another, but also, because in some ways I worry if I really am a racist or not.

To be completely honest, I am extremely judgmental about things. I look at a person and form an opinion about him or her almost immediately. And that is completely based on physical attributes, while my judgments on those are completely formed by society. For instance, attractive, thin blond female wearing a shirt and pants that show her stomach and I will have a positive opinion of her, but for an African-American male wearing baggy clothes and I will probably be pretty wary of him. A Hispanic male looking grungy and dirty and my first thought is whether or not he is an illegal alien.

Now please understand. I realize the mistakes in this and in my life I try to rectify them. I almost feel like this is a genetic sin because of where I’ve grown up (the American South) and the deeply inherent feelings about race. But you know the funny thing is that I rarely think about the fact that I am a white male. And I think that’s because neither my race nor my sex is a barrier to me in anything I want to do. I don’t have cops following me around a mall just watching me. I can get any job that I want to have, from preacher to salesperson without limit. So I wonder what it’s like to go through life with the color of my skin being one of the defining characteristics to my self identity and how others perceive me.

I feel like I’ve rambled through a lot of this and I didn’t even really hit on what I think is a bigger barrier in America than race and that’s socio-economic status (for instance, how do you evacuate from a hurricane area when you don’t have a car or money for a hotel?). What I do want is to pray that God will give me eyes that respect and see the value of each person that I encounter. That I will see Jesus in them and love them for who they are as someone created in God’s image. I don’t want color blind eyes. I want to see in full color as Ralph Ellison described in The Invisible Man. I want to be able to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said.

This is imperative for me as a follower of Christ. It’s imperative for all of us.


Brandon Scott said...

Right on. you know it was weird. I had lived in the Brentwood area for almost a year (moved here in 1995) before realizing that I hadn't seen an African American person in weeks, maybe months. Things are definitely more segregated here.Then we had the influx of Hispanics and the uproar from the community about illegal aliens. Then the Kurds, etc.

Well, I will personally come forward and say that prejudice can be soft but still very present. (My) Sheryl has been a good judge of this for me. She's helped me realize that, growing up in TX, most of my prejudices revolved around Hispanics. Then she would insert things in conversations about them like, "The thing I really love about their culture is that they are so into famiy and have such strong family systems." TRUE! After some time I realized that she had chipped away at it until I no longer felt the things I might have once felt but never would say outloud. It has truly caused me to not only not look at them with suspicion, but to look at them instead with admiration. These folks have come, many of them, in order to better their families and provide for them. Plus, many of these men work LONG hours to provide for them. That deserves admiration!

Then, she began to challenge me in other areas..."white trash" for example. Who knows why, but I loved that term and it seemed really applicable. She really, really hates it. Why? Well, she would tell you that people desribe "white trash" people as those who might live in trailor homes, etc. She has family like that who is anything but white trash. And, she would say, "How can I describe ANYONE as trash and be a Jesus follower?" Extrememly good point. No one--not even those who really fit the "bill" should be called trash by us.

Racism is alive and well and probably lives in our hearts a lot more than we'd be willing to admit.

brittney said...

Kanye West said "George Bush does not care about black people."

He never said the word hate.

Phil said...

Thanks, Brittney. That's an important distinction. I'll make the edit.

jazztheo said...

Lord Jesus,
we do ask for your grace and mercy to flow in us and through us. thankyou for my brother Phil...for his love for you and heart to love people. Lord, give Phil the desires of his heart.

God help us to be an answer to your prayer for unity. Help the world to know that we are your disciples by how we treat each other.


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